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House lawmakers end special legislative session

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - In an odd twist that ended Kentucky's
special legislative session, the House voted Thursday night to
accept a Senate proposal to shore up Medicaid, but only after
receiving assurance from Gov. Steve Beshear that he would use his
veto power to remove objectionable provisions.
The proposal includes cuts to most government agencies to free
up money for Medicaid - a move the Democratic-controlled House has
vehemently opposed.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo sought and received assurance from
Beshear that he would veto the spending cuts, particularly those
proposed for public schools. After receiving that pledge, House
lawmakers voted 86-2 to pass it.
"It's an unusual move," Stumbo said of the vote to pass a bill
that the majority opposed. "But the end result is what we all
believe should be done."
The move could head off threatened 35 percent cuts to Medicaid
providers beginning April 1 by transferring more than $166.5 from
next year's budget to shore up Medicaid this year. Then, next
year's $425 million budget gap will be plugged by using
privatization.
The Senate had voted 22-15 along party lines in the afternoon to
impose the cuts. The legislation also included language that would
allow the fund transfer to bolster the program that has become
overburdened by an influx of new recipients during the economic
downtown.
Now that the House and Senate have signed off on the measure, it
goes to Beshear who has line-item veto power to essentially strike
everything except the transfer provision if he chooses. He assured
House lawmakers in a letter that the proposed cuts would be vetoed,
and urged them to vote for the bill.
"By doing so, you have my absolute commitment to honor the
principles you and the Senate Democrats have stood for throughout
this session," Beshear wrote.
After passing the legislation, House lawmakers adjourned until
January when they're scheduled to return for the 2012 session.
Meanwhile, the Senate recessed until April 6 when it would return
to Frankfort to consider overriding vetoes. That appears to be a
futile move now, considering both the House and Senate would have
to vote for overrides.
Beshear praised House lawmakers in a statement, saying they had
"taken courageous action bringing an end to this costly session."
Republican Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said
he believes Beshear will face public pressure not to render
wholesale vetoes of the Senate proposal's various provisions,
including one that would halt any additional furloughs of state
employees.
"We feel that we have come to the best possible conclusion,"
Williams said. "We've done our part, and now we'll see what the
governor does and what the House does. Every one of these vetoes
that the governor does, the House is going to have to agree to
now."
Stumbo rejected the Senate proposal outright, calling it
unacceptable.
Lawmakers have been meeting in special legislative session since
March 14 at a cost of about $64,000 a day. Beshear called them back
to Frankfort just days after they adjourned the regular session.
That session had ended without an accord on how to fill a budget
gap in the program that provides medical care for more than 800,000
elderly, poor and disabled Kentuckians.
The Senate's proposed compromise to resolve the Medicaid
problems would require cuts of 0.35 percent in the current fiscal
year and 1.74 percent next fiscal year.
Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Bob Leeper
and Senate Republicans questioned whether Beshear's administration
could save enough money to balance the Medicaid budget next year.
House Democrats and most Republicans believed he could and had made
that savings a key provision of their proposal.
As one of the leading skeptics, Leeper said he is worried that
Medicaid could be thrown further out of balance next year if the
Beshear administration falls short in the savings, perhaps
requiring a major adjustment to the state's two-year budget.
In an attempt to resolve the impasse, the House proposed a
measure earlier this week that calls for triggered cuts that would
kick in only if the privatization doesn't work. The Senate rejected
that proposal.
The issue had become politically charged in a gubernatorial
election year. Beshear is seeking re-election, though he's
unopposed in the May 17 Democratic primary. Republican Senate
President David Williams is one of three candidates seeking the GOP
nomination to run against Beshear.
Political sniping has hindered progress, despite reminders from
respected lawmakers, like Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, that some
of the state's most vulnerable citizens would be affected,
including a huge number of elderly nursing home residents.
Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, criticized House leaders for what he
described as "a sham" by passing the Medicaid budget fix even
though they opposed it, knowing Beshear would overhaul it.
In the one-upmanship of Frankfort politics, Stumbo said the
House, by opting to forgo the Senate's 10-day recess, is saving
Kentucky taxpayers more than $600,000 in salaries and expenses. He
urged his Senate counterparts to adjourn as well, to save
additional money.
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The legislation is House Bill 1.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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